The Pen

O’ Death: Ralph Stanley’s Funeral Provides Insight into the Religion of Freemasonry

This entry is part 16 of 31 in the series Freemasonry

“Freemasonry has a religious service to commit the body of a deceased brother to the dust whence it came, and to speed the liberated spirit back to the Great Source of Light. Many Freemasons make this flight with no other guarantee of a safe landing other than their belief in the religion of Freemasonry” Henry Wilson Coil, Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia

The issue of whether or not Freemasonry is a “religion” has for years been a hotly debated topic among critics of the Craft and its apologists.  Critics of Freemasonry, supported by the writings of Masonic authors such as Coil and Mackey, argue that Freemasonry is, in fact, religious.  Having arrived at that conclusion its critics argue that Freemasonry is fundamentally incompatible with Christian faith and practice; for a Christian to have more than one religion or to participate in a spiritual enterprise which contradicts Biblical teachings is to engage in sinful syncretism.  The defenders of the Lodge argue that, although Freemasonry requires its adherents to believe in a Supreme Being, the Craft is not a religion.  Instead, they argue that Masonry is a universal Brotherhood which includes members of many different religions and is not a religion in and of itself.  Given that Freemasons publically disagree amongst themselves as to whether or not Freemasonry is a religion, Christians are wise to examine the Masonic evidence for themselves and form their own conclusions.  Unfortunately, because Freemasonry is a secret society, such evidence can be hard to find.  Perhaps the best source of evidence for the Masonic belief that is available to the public is the Masonic funeral ceremony.  The Masonic funeral rite, to which every Master Mason is entitled, is often performed in public and in front of non-Masons.  In 2016, beloved bluegrass and gospel singer Ralph Stanley died at the age of 89.  Stanley was a Master Mason and Shriner.  His funeral service, which included the Masonic funeral rite, has been posted on YouTube.  Stanley’s provides a very public glimpse into the spiritual nature of Freemasonry.



According to his obituary, Stanley was “of the Primitive Baptist faith”.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that his funeral service was “given unto God” in a prayer which was made in the name of Jesus.  After this prayer, the funeral was turned over to the Masonic Lodge in order for Stanley’s Masonic brethren to perform the Masonic funeral rite over his body.  During the rite, the Masonic speaker presented several symbols of spiritual significance, one of which was an evergreen that was, according to the Mason, a symbol of “Masonic faith”.  At no time during the Masonic rite, which contained references to the divine and to the “general resurrection” of the dead was the name of Jesus mentioned.  Stanley was referred to as “Brother Ralph.”  A prayer was offered by the Masons.  Much Biblical language was utilized during the rite but at no time was the rite overtly “Christian”.  Mention was made of Stanley’s standing before “his god”.

After the Masonic rite ended, Stanley’s obituary was read and the funeral proceeded.  Observers, especially Christian observers, could be led to believe that the Masonic rite was inherently Christian.  It was performed after a non-Mason convened the funeral service in the name of Jesus and contained many biblical and spiritual allusions.  However, the rite is fundamentally non-Christian in nature.  This is because any Master Mason, whether or not he is a Christian, is entitled to the same funeral rite.  For this reason, the Masonic rite cannot have any mention of the name of the Christian God, Jesus Christ.  At the same time, the rite is fundamentally religious.  It makes mention of the afterlife, the deceased’s relationship with “his god”, the resurrection of the dead, and spiritual purity.  No one can argue with any credibility that a funeral service opened with a prayer in Jesus’ name is not a fundamentally religious exercise.  At the same time, no one can argue with any credibility that a funeral rite, performed at that same service, which itself contained a prayer, is not a fundamentally religious exercise.  If Freemasonry is not religious, why then does it have a funeral rite with which to begin?  That Freemasonry is a form of “church” is implicitly apparent in practices and the actions of its adherents.  Very telling was the request of Stanley’s family to send donations in lieu of flowers, not to Stanley’s Primitive Baptist Church or a Christian missions organization, but to the Shriner’s hospital.

Christians with Masonic relatives, whom they know to be “good” church-going persons, are often taken aback at the revelation that Freemasonry is a religion and is incompatible with Christian faith and practice.  Rather than judge Masonry by the standard of biblical teaching, they judge the craft by the affections they have for their loved one.  Christians should do well to remember that everyone in Hell is someone’s loved one.  Christians would also do well to remember that Masonry espouses universalism, teaching that a man can go to Heaven without a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  Fans of Ralph Stanley’s gospel music may be surprised to learn that Stanley was himself a Universalist.  Not only was he a Freemason but his particular strain of Primitive Baptist faith is a Universalist one.  Thus, it’s no surprise that Stanley was comfortable as a member of Clintwood Masonic Lodge #66 and the Kazim Shrine in Roanoke, Virginia.  Christians who know of fellow-church members who are Freemasons should ask themselves why the Masons they know feel at home both in their church and in the lodge.  The answer could be startling.

For more on Freemasonry see this link.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church of which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

H/T Steven Garren

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Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant